Monthly Archives: May 2010

The hard choices

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin said there are two kinds of liberties.
Positive Liberty, and Negative Liberty.
Positive Liberty is the freedom to DO things.
Go where you want, with who you want, when you want, etc.
Negative Liberty is the freedom FROM things.
Freedom from fear, from hunger, from exploitation, etc.
Both these freedoms are undoubtedly good things.
But people refuse to face the truth about them.
The more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
On the one hand:
If you give everyone the freedom TO carry a gun.
You take away someone else’s freedom FROM fear.
If you give everyone freedom TO make money however they want.
You take away someone else’s freedom FROM exploitation.
On the other hand:
If you give everyone freedom FROM homelessness, the state must pay for housing.
Which means higher taxes.
Which means someone else loses the freedom TO spend their money how they want.
No one wants to face these hard choices.
If you want more of one, you have to have less of the other.
Remember science class at school?
The most basic rule: nothing can be created or destroyed.
It can only change state.
We can heat a block of ice, and it turns into water.
We can heat the water, and it turns into steam.
A solid, to a liquid, to a gas.
But the same amount of matter remains in existence.
That’s the essence of the zero-sum game.
Nothing new magically appears.
If you want it, it has to come from somewhere else.
How come we don’t know that in our business?
If we want more sales, if we want to grow the market, if we want to increase brand share, it has to come from somewhere else.
When was the last time you saw a brief that identified where we’d be taking sales from?
When was the grubby subject of money mentioned?
Who would be putting their hand in their pocket and deciding not to spend the cash on that, but on this instead.
How about never.
We talk about branding and hope it will act like a magnet.
Magically attracting people from somewhere.
Like moths to a flame.
No one wants to identify exactly where they’re coming from.

Because, like politicians, no one want to make the hard choices.

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Time to play

If you don’t play games, you may not know that this week holds the biggest blockbuster release for years – yep, even bigger than Avatar – Red Dead Redemption. It’s a Western for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 built by the geniuses at Rockstar Games, responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series.

Whether you like games or not, if you’re an advertiser I would strongly recommend you take note because while you can’t advertise in this particular game a huge tidal wave of people are now playing more games more often. According to DoubleFusion, a 2009 survey showed 73% of the UK population has played video games (source: National Gamers Survey, TNS & GameIndustry UK).

With the advent of social, mobile and online gaming EA are reporting that the number of women playing video games in the last 12 months (ages 25-29 yrs) has increased 17%. For 15-19 year olds, this number has increased by 15%. It’s not just big blockbuster games either, it’s the casual ‘dip in and out’ online games like Mini Clip and Playfish that are causing a major shift.

All of these stats have resulted in companies like P&G, T-Mobile, The Discovery Channel, Orange and many more using games for advertising. I was particularly encouraged by the announcement in last week’s NMA by Channel 4 that their education department is investing heavily in online and console gaming.

Increased audience is a compelling story, but what I’d really like everyone to understand is that people enjoy playing games, and when we play our attention is incredibly focussed. If you can get involved in the creation of games yourselves – in the right way – you can help position your brand at the heart of this attention and enjoyment.

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Editor’s blog: Sugar’s TV freak show

It was bad enough when Lawd Sugar’s awful show was using adult lab rats. Now he’s doing the same with kids.

I’m going to reserve judgement for the time being about whether this really is a new behavioural dawn; about whether we’re going to enter a summer of (tough) love, and the lion really is going to lay down with the lamb; about whether we’re all going to be businesslike and mature, dropping the adversarial approach, when it comes to sorting out our dire problems.

But wouldn’t it be good if this new dawn featured a little bit less of Alan Sugar? Shouldn’t he be heading for the exit in the same way as his political sponsor Gordon Brown? Surralan has now morphed effortlessly into the ermine-clad Lord Sugar (or Lawd Sugar) and was back yet again on the BBC last night with his execrable ‘Junior Apprentice’. Talk about flogging a format to death.

I found it distasteful enough that Lawd S was trying to persuade us that business was about a nasty dog-eat-dog mentality – where you shaft or die – when he was using adults as his lab animals. But kids? Twenty-eight thousand of them apparently applied to get on this telly freak show. Squeezing them into suits and ties made one as uneasy as those American parents who put their four-year-old daughters into talent shows, plastered with lipstick and foundation. As The Guardian noted this morning: ‘If the Big Society is long on self-promotion and backstabbing, and short on talent and personal responsibility, then count this lot in.’

Now I’m all for a more entrepreneurial culture in this country. And it will be through new companies with new ideas that we pull through from our travails. But it’s also true that those who want to sell things from an early age do tend to come over as a bit weird and unpopular. I recall the kids at school who were going way beyond doing a paper round at the age of 14 to make a few extra bob. One Billy No Mates became a fully-fledged ticket tout. In the pre-digital age he’d queue patiently outside the Hammersmith Odeon or The Rainbow from six in the morning to buy twenty tickets for The Damned or The Bay City Rollers, and then on the night of the event would double his money. He was very good at it, but we all loathed him. Maybe it was juvenile envy.

I probably envy the £730m The Rich List tells us Lawd S is currently worth. But deep down I wonder what he thinks about himself. He should have turned his Amstrad electronics company into a world stage player. But he didn’t. He should have been our Steve Jobs, but he isn’t. He sold what was left of Amstrad to BSkyB a couple of years back for only £34.5m. That doesn’t sound like much for the life’s work of a man worth three-quarters of a billion. But the truth about Sugar is that he has long been more successful as a property magnate than as an electronics entrepreneur, and the vast majority of his wealth has been amassed through lucrative but low-tech investment in bricks and mortar. Amstrad’s last killer products were its range of cheap PCs way back in the 80s. Seems like a lifetime ago.

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Please try again

As David Cameron stepped inside No 10 last night, the Labour Party website was unable to accept new members – and instead posted a message stating: “A record number of people are trying to join the Labour Party, please try again in five minutes.”

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Editor’s blog: The age of managerial politics?

Hopefully this deal will mean politics becomes more like business, and less like an ongoing street fight.

Well, this is all very encouraging. After the stalemate, a glimmer of hope of new life provided by two freshly-scrubbed, clean-cut young men with lovely wives and babies aplenty between them. (I can’t wait for the photo session where the new little Cameron gets on down in harmonious fashion in the playpen with Antonio, Alberto and Miguel Clegg, with Great Uncle Vince beaming in the background.)

One of the themes being mooted this morning is that the new regime will be more managerial and less adversarial. I suppose this means the country should be run like a good business rather than as an ongoing street fight between bitter political enemies. Sounds good to me. Say what you want about Brown – and he went out with dignity – but he sure managed to get plenty of people’s backs up from both ends of the political spectrum. He could pick a fight in an empty room. But if the new CEO and deputy CEO of UK plc – together with Vince muttering with his abacus somewhere in the FD’s office – can agree on the strategy, and then work hard on communicating and executing it… who knows. It’s going to take an enormous amount of discipline, and they’ll need to keep backwoodsmen like Bill Cash sealed down in the funny farm box.

The grim problem we all now have to face is the fact that Government has to shrink. We ask it to do too much, and have allowed it to get fat and lazy. Over the last two years, private business has had to say: ‘There is not enough money to pay for all this; you will have to make do with less’. It has to be doable in the public sector too, without the whole shebang falling apart and us entering an Ice Age where the seriously needy are left out in the cold.

On the subject of Clegg’s kids – and things partly Spanish – comes the news this morning that over in Madrid, they’ve decided to cut civil service pay by 5%. Yes – every government salary person is going to have a twentieth lopped off his or her annual wages. The Spanish are also cutting 6 billion Euros from public sector investment, and even abolishing the 2,500 euro childbirth allowance – so the maternity wards in Spanish hospitals are going to be quiet for the foreseeable future. ‘The situation is difficult and it would be nonsense to hide it,’ said the Socialist PM Zapatero. Now the election is over, our new political rulers have got to stop hiding and refusing to come clean about where the hurtful knife is going to be applied.

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Singaporean choice architecture

Singapore is a tiny island. One quarter the size of London, with one quarter the population. Singapore has no natural resources.

They depend on trade for their existence. Ships in, ships out. When I first went to Singapore, they were the fourth largest port in the world.

But they work hard. And now they are the largest port in the world.

Singapore is also the only country in S.E. Asia where every citizen has drinkable tap water, flushing toilets, and electric light.

So this is a country that works. In all senses of the word. But it’s not quite to western tastes.

It’s a bit too clean, a bit too law-abiding, a bit too unexciting. For visitors who want to romance of the exotic Far East.

The jungle, the huts, the dirt roads. But the locals, the people that live there don’t want all that.

They want it clean, and safe, and modern. And that’s the dichotomy.

Do you go for dirty, and risky, and exciting? Or do you go for nice, and safe, and unexciting?

It’s that way with creativity. No pain, no gain.

The more you try to iron out the risk, the more you iron out the excitement.

Of course, from Lee Kuan Yew’s point of view, this is exactly what he wants.

Nice, safe, clean, prosperous, and predictable. Singapore is a democracy.

But the Singaporeans are a practical people.

What exactly do you get from democracy?

Freedom. Yes but freedom to do what?

Live in corrugated iron huts on dirt roads in the jungle.

That may be Hollywood’s idea of freedom, but it’s not theirs.

Lee Kuan Yew understands his people.

They like democracy in name, but they don’t want it getting in the way of getting things done.

So, in the interests of stability, he sees it as his job to make sure the opposition gets as few votes as possible.

The last time I was there, I read his party’s manifesto. He said, PAP policy was to renovate all the public housing.

They would know how popular this policy was by the number of votes they received.

In the areas where the PAP received most votes, it would mean this policy was most popular.

Therefore those areas would be renovated as a priority.

In the areas where the PAP received fewer votes, it obviously wasn’t a popular policy.

So these areas would be the last to be renovated.

So here’s the choice architecture.

You’re free to vote for who you want.

You don’t have to vote to have your housing estate renovated.

But how will your neighbours feel if you vote against it?

And so entire neighbourhoods organised to get the most PAP votes.

So their area would get renovated first.

Lee Kuan Yew set up the choice so the voters were competing with each other.

They were doing his canvassing for him.

That’s choice architecture.

Another simple piece of choice architecture is the duty-free at Singapore airport.

It’s vast, like Harrods.

But it’s not on the way-out, as it is at most airports.

It’s on the way in.

And every Singaporean knows this.

So, when they’re coming home, they don’t bother shopping at the airport they’re leaving from.

They know there’s a better duty-free at Singapore airport.

Bigger, cleaner, with more choice.

And it saves them carrying their purchases on the plane, too.

So all that money comes in to Singapore, instead of going somewhere else.

Another example was donor’s cards.

Because it’s only a small island, Singapore had a problem with lack of organs for transplant.

Like people everywhere, Singaporeans couldn’t be bothered carrying donor’s cards.

So the Singapore government changed a problem into an opportunity. By changing the law.

Organs were automatically donated unless you carried a ‘non-donors’ card.

Again most people couldn’t be bothered.

Which means Singapore had all the organs for transplant they needed.

They rearranged the architecture so that apathy worked in their favour. Instead of against it.

As Ray Kroc said, “The art of salesmanship is letting people have it your way.”

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We’ve no standards these days

Imagine Mrs Kellogg’s.She’s totally loaded, but remains dedicated to selling her cereals to the people of the world. To do this, she makes cardboard boxes with designs on them to stand out on shop shelves. Now imagine ifMrs Kellogg’s went to Miss Tesco, Ms J Sainsbury and Dame Marks & Spencer asking them to stock her latest cereal on their shelves. Miss Tesco would love to stock her new cereal, but only if the box is 2cm shorter. Ms J Sainsbury and Dame Marks & Spencer will also gladly take the cereal, but they also request different sizes of box because they all think their size is the best.

It’s certainly possible for Mrs Kellogg’s to do this, but she is rather busy and, quite frankly, has better things to be doing with her time than worrying about the shape of boxes. Particularly as each market across Europe has similar requests and she then has to think about different ways to transport the different size boxes. If she were to produce every different box it would lead to packaging her one cereal in at least 40 or more different boxes – and she has over thirty different types of cereal! Mrs Kellogg’s is exasperated.

She thinks about choosing just one shop, but to maximise reach her cereal has to be on the shelves of all of them. In a bid to make her life a lot easier, Mrs Kellogg’s hosts an afternoon tea party for all of the ladies and after much discussion, they agree on one size of box for all shops. Mrs Kellogg’s is now extremely happy because she can display her new cereal in front of as many people as possible. Miss Tesco, Ms J Sainsbury and Dame Marks & Spencer are particularly happy because they receive money for every box of Mrs Kellogg’s popular cereal sold in their store. What a rip roaring success!

Internet advertising in its many forms is exactly the same. There are thousands of different websites that sell advertising on their pages. The most successful websites for online advertising are search engines. They’re successful because: 1) search ads work 2) almost everyone uses search so advertisers can target every audience 3) there is only one ad format, so it’s incredibly easy and time efficient to use. Likewise, online display advertising works and everyone accesses websites with ads on, but I think it is suffering on ease and efficiency because of a lack of advertising standards.

Of course, search has it easy, there are only a tiny handful of search engines. For online display and video advertising there are hundreds of thousands of websites on offer and the types of adverts on each varies enormously. In the US, the market works together to establish standards to make it easier for the Mrs Kellogg’s of the world to use the same advert across all of these sites without modifying the box size. The UK does the same, but there doesn’t seem to be the same appetite to develop new standards.

In particular, I believe that online video advertising and new online display formats are being held back significantly by a lack of standards across publishers. I’m ready and willing to help and, indeed, there are some knights in shining armour in the industry who are already helping to fix this problem. However, this is a problem that everyone in the industry needs to understand and help solve. If we can all get this right, we can continue to grow online display advertising and make it better for everyone.

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Publishers become animated as the iPad arrives in London

Apple's iPad in action
Apple’s iPad might not officially launch in the UK until 28 May, but as anyone not living under a rock in the last month will be able to tell you; the iPad is here and already walks among us.

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What delivers the digital future for Outdoor?

I spent two days last week at a digital signage trade show and accompanying media conference. As is usual at these events there is much showcasing of and talk about what is around the corner. I chaired a conference panel session on “the future for digital out-of-home”.

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Broader industry support needed for behavioural advertising

Last week departing New Media Age (NMA) journalist Susie Bearn issued a ‘call to action’ for more players within the digital media sector to sign up to the IAB’s Good Practice Principles on behavioural advertising to give the initiative even greater credibility.

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